(2001, Adventure/Crime, color)
Mike Nelson and Richard Cheese
King Hippo is fighting Soda Popinski...
In a nutshell:
Eleven thieves pull off an outrageously complicated heist.
Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is released from prison after serving five years for burglary and immediately starts recruiting for his next heist. To this end, he reconnects with his old partner Brad Pitt, whose character probably isn’t named Brad Pitt, but with so many names flying every which way, I could only ever think of the characters by their actors’ names. Seriously, the only reason I remembered that Clooney’s name is Ocean is because it’s the title of the friggin’ movie.
Clooney and Pitt fill the roles of masterminds. To fill out their criminal team, they recruit nine other over-exaggerated characters, including Elliott Gould, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Carl Reiner, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, and a few others whose names I don’t know and can’t be bothered to look up. Of course they need an inside man, a pickpocket, a technician, a demolitions expert, and an acrobat. Every heist also needs at least two elderly Jews; one because he’s a champion liar, and another because he can bankroll the operation. They also need two young Mormons, because everyone knows that Mormons are masters of strategic distraction as well as expert getaway drivers.
(I hadn’t ever heard that last stereotype before I saw this film, but I’m glad they told me. It’s nice to know I have some hidden skills to fall back on if my current job ever falls through.)
The target of the heist is a trio of Vegas casinos owned by a humorless man whose name probably isn’t Andy Garcia. I could go over all the rehearsals and false starts with you but it’s really only interesting in the context of the heist itself, which breaks down as follows:
Technician insinuates himself into the casino server room to plant a device that gives him access and control over the surveillance system. Liar checks into the casino hotel shortly thereafter, masquerading as a wealthy Russian. He uses Bankroll’s money to spend his way into Garcia’s good graces, and then insists that Garcia store a certain suitcase full of emeralds in the maximum security vault. Meanwhile, the Mormon boys pose as casino couriers, bluffing the guards into storing a large case in the vault.
Also meanwhile, Pickpocket shows up posing as a Gaming Commission officer, accusing Insider of falsifying his identity to get a job at the casino. This gets him past security. When the racially-charged playacting with Insider is finally over, Pickpocket pretends to forget his pager. Garcia is in a hurry to leave; he tells Pickpocket to find his own way out of the secure area. Having lifted the security codes out of Garcia’s pocket, Pickpocket takes the elevator down towards the vault.
Of course security has cameras in the elevator, the vault, the hallways, and almost everywhere else. In order to distract the guards from the unfolding shenanigans, Liar fakes a heart attack. While they’re tending him, Technician remotely switches the camera feeds to unremarkable prerecorded footage. He also intercepts their 911 call, sending Pitt and the Mormon boys in lieu of paramedics. They declare Liar dead at the scene and cart him away.
Also meanwhile, Clooney has been making trouble with Garcia’s girlfriend Julia Roberts, who also happens to be Clooney’s ex-wife. Garcia’s henchmen take Clooney to a room with no surveillance cameras and lock him in with a biker thug. Little do they know that the thug is in Clooney’s pay. He helps Clooney into air ducts and fools the guards outside by making “beating up” noises.
Clooney meets Pickpocket in the elevator shaft. Outside, Demolitions Expert interrupts the city’s power supply for a few crucial minutes so that they can slide past the sensors and down to the bottom of the shaft. They gas and bind the guards. Meanwhile, Acrobat pops out of the large case in the vault and recovers the false emeralds from Liar’s case. Demolitions Expert fashioned them earlier out of explosives; Acrobat fastens them to the inside of the door while Clooney and Pickpocket detonate them from the outside. Together they pack the money into large, unmarked bags.
At this point, Pitt calls up Garcia to let him know that they’re robbing his vault. If he lets them walk out with half the money, they won’t set off the explosives they’ve wired to the other half. Garcia agrees while secretly calling the police. His guards load the money into an unmarked van and then follow it to an airfield. Then he sends a S.W.A.T. team down to catch the thieves as they emerge. There’s gunfire, and the explosives send the rest of the money up in smoke. Disgusted, Garcia sends the S.W.A.T. team away.
Meanwhile, the casino thugs catch up with the van and find out that it’s remotely operated. Then the money inside blows up. Only it’s not money, it’s a bunch of flyers advertising prostitutes. Now we learn that Garcia’s call to the police was intercepted as well, and the S.W.A.T. team was really the thieves in disguise. They walked out with the real money in their equipment bags when he sent them away.
In the meantime, Clooney has crawled back through the air ducts to the room with no surveillance cameras and concluded his beating. Garcia storms in and demands to know if Clooney was in on the heist. Clooney feigns ignorance, but declares that he knows a guy from prison who can find out who it was. He’ll help Garcia track down the culprits if Garcia will promise to stay away from Clooney’s ex-wife. Garcia agrees.
Technician captures this exchange on the security camera and feeds it to the television in Julia Roberts’ room. Roberts realizes that Garcia loves his money more than her. She also realizes What a Fool She’s Been and rushes out to reunite with Clooney. She promises to wait for him as the police cart him away for parole violation.
Three to six months later, Pitt and Roberts pick up Clooney from the penitentiary. Roberts and Clooney declare their love for each other again as Pitt drives them away, unaware that Garcia’s thugs are tailing them in the distance.
You know how in the old cartoons, a character would don sunglasses and an ascot, take a long drag from an enormous cigar, and then throw back his head and exhale with a look of intense and aloof satisfaction? The main characters of Ocean’s Eleven look like that all the time. They’ve all got bags of charisma, oodles of aloofness, and miles of self-satisfaction. It is essentially a film of impossibly cool people doing impossibly cool things while entirely aware of how impossibly cool that is. Yes, it’s sidewalk-puddle shallow, but the heist is elegantly constructed and its perpetrators gleefully suave, so I liked it just fine.
And speaking of the impossible, heist films are ludicrously overcomplicated by nature, but this one takes the cake. You have to wonder about thieves whose plans are so elaborate that a single mistimed action or unexpected circumstance could completely derail the whole thing. The best thing about Ocean’s Eleven is that it doesn't just acknowledge this; it wallows in it. Rule number one of Ocean’s [Insert Number Here] is that no matter what complication arises, Danny Ocean has already thought of it and come up with an ingenious back-up plan. He’s a bit like the Adam West Batman in that respect; no doubt he has a small container of highly compressed frog repellent on his key chain just in case the heist gets interrupted by a biblical plague.
Sadly, this is one of the very few times when the film/Rifftrax experience appears to be less than the sum of its parts. As I said, I liked the movie well enough. The commentary seems decently written. Mike is funny as always and special guest (and comic Vegas lounge singer) Richard Cheese is not great, but passable. The elements just never seemed to mesh. There were a handful of giggles but no laugh-out-loud lines. (My favorite exchange comes when Mike makes up an absurd Mormon stereotype and then defends it to Richard by saying “Just because you’ve never heard of it doesn’t mean it’s not true.” But then, I’ve got personal reasons for thinking that’s funny.) The commentary and the film don’t even seem to be straining against each other, as was the case with Beowulf and Cloverfield. They just mix together into a kind of bland grayness. It’s not painful to watch, but with dozens of far better Rifftrax commentaries to choose from, you’d probably be better off watching one of them instead.
(2001, Adventure/Crime, color)